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A void has been left in the hearts of music fans everywhere with the passing this year of some of the brightest stars in country music. And, for more than half a century, none shone brighter than Johnny and June Carter Cash, both of whom died this year after building an amazing life together and leaving a legacy that will live for generations.
June, a member of the legendary Carter Family, recording artist and writer of one of Johnny's biggest hits, "Ring of Fire," died May 15 in Nashville of complications from heart surgery. She was 73.
Johnny, a true American icon, inspired generations of other writers and performers with his unmistakable voice and songs for the downtrodden - "Folsom Prison Blues" and "The Man in Black" among them. As recently as Nov. 5, his latest album, American IV: The Man Comes Around, was honored with three CMA awards. He died in Nashville nearly two months earlier, on Sept. 12, of respiratory failure brought on by diabetes. Johnny was 71.
Legendary Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, who played a major role in the launching of not only Johnny's recording career, but also those of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Conway Twitty, Charlie Rich and others, died July 30. A 2000 A&E biography calling Sam "The Man Who Invented Rock and Roll" recalled his legendary accomplishments. He was 80.
Longtime Grand Ole Opry member and Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Bill Carlisle, known as "Jumpin' Bill" because of his trademark leaps into the air while performing, died at his Nashville home March 17, from complications of a stroke. He was 94.
Opry star Jim McReynolds, high harmony singer and elder brother in the Jim & Jesse bluegrass group for more than 50 years, died Dec. 31, 2002, following a battle with thyroid cancer. His wife, Areta, had died of a heart attack less than two weeks earlier. Jim was 75.
Johnny Paycheck, best known for his working-man's anthem "Take This Job and Shove It" and other classics like "Old Violin," "You Can Have Her" and "Don't Take Her, She's All I Got," died Feb. 18 after a long battle with emphysema and asthma. He was 64.
Country Music Hall of Fame member Floyd Tillman, who wrote and performed the classics "Slippin' Around" and "I Love You So Much It Hurts Me," died at his home in Houston Aug. 22. He was 88.
Hall of Fame member Don Gibson, who penned such country standards as "Sweet Dreams," "Oh Lonesome Me" and "I Can't Stop Loving You," died Nov. 17 in Nashville of natural causes. He was 75.
Veteran singer and actor Sheb Wooley, who appeared in High Noon and more than 60 other movies, recorded both pop and country songs in his long career, including the classic "Purple People Eater." He died of leukemia Sept. 16 at the age of 82.
Wilma Burgess, a ballad singer from the Nashville Sound era of Decca Records, died Aug. 26 in Nashville. She charted three Top 15 hits with 1965's "Baby," 1966's "Misty Blue" and 1967's "Tear Time." She was 64.
Musician Jimmy Campbell and songwriter Rosey Nix Adams, June Carter Cash's daughter from her second marriage, were found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning near Nashville Oct. 24. Jimmy had been the late Bill Monroe's fiddle player and also worked with other bluegrass groups, including Jim & Jesse. Rosey was the half-sister of Carlene Carter and stepsister to Rosanne Cash. Jimmy was 40 and Rosey was 45.
John Ritter, best-known for his role as Jack Tripper in the long-running television sitcom Three's Company, died Sept. 11 in California from a previously undetected flaw in his heart. John was the younger son of Western film star and country music legend Tex Ritter. John was 54.
Dorothy Ritter, John's mother and Tex's widow, died in California nearly two months after John's passing. A former actress who did PR work for the Opry, she was a regular presence at a variety of country music events and an unofficial ambassador of the country music industry during the time her husband was CMA president.
Buddy Ebsen, best-known as the title character in television's Barnaby Jones and as the good-natured, fabulously wealthy patriarch of the Clampetts on the long-running series The Beverly Hillbillies, died July 6 after an undisclosed illness. He was 95.